Hi! I’m Jeremy Caplan. Last week’s post focused on great new alternatives to PowerPoint for creating slides. In today’s post I’m sharing several ways to improve online meetings by moving beyond — & improving upon— Zoom.
Join me tomorrow, Friday, April 30 at 2pm ET for a live audio-only Twitter Spaces chat about tips, tools & tactics for virtual meetings. RSVP 🔜 here or visit @jeremycaplan on Twitter Friday at 2pm ET.
Explore alternatives to Zoom
Before scheduling yet another Zoom call, try an alternative. Inject energy and a fresh atmosphere into meetings and make them more enjoyable and productive. Some options:
Benefit: Energize meetings. Share a built-in agenda, timers, notes, and other useful meeting tools.
Butter is one of my favorite new meeting tools. It’s especially useful for workshops, classes or working meetings. It’s free and Web-based, so you can just share a link, no downloads required. It works for up to 100 people. This week Butter officially launched on Product Hunt—one of my favorite tech hubs for new sites and apps—ending up as the top product yesterday. It integrates neatly with other useful services like Miro, Google Drive, and YouTube. Here’s Butter’s 2-minute video demo.
Benefit: Enable collective notes, free up screen space and reduce visual fatigue. Use Around to meet as small circles on the screen instead of in a large Zoom box. That frees up screen space so you can collectively look at other things on screen. Around also enables clear audio & reduces the focus on people’s faces🤭🥺 by enabling simple filters. Like Butter, Around has a built-in shared notes feature, so you can get notes automatically emailed to you after a meeting.
If you like the idea of using this cool type of interface but are part of groups committed to Zoom, one option is to use a tool like Macro.io, which layers on top of Zoom and adds a bunch of interesting and useful features. For instance, it gives you the option to hold an audio meeting if you’re Zoomed out; or you can view how long everyone has spoken to ensure your meetings are inclusive. Here’s a short video demo from Macro’s team that shows Macro in action.
Benefit: Let people catch up one-on-one during a meeting.
Use Run the World, which I wrote about here, to devote a portion of the meeting to enabling people to have individual conversations. The platform’s “cocktail party” function lets you set up short rounds of one-on-one chats that can be just a few minutes long. There’s also a new feature — set up roundtable topics and let people join a small group conversation. Rather than having people sit passively through a long meeting, set the stage for energizing chats and leave people feeling that they’ve caught up with several colleagues.
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Put the focus on people, not slides
mmhmm works with your existing meeting services — like Zoom, Google Meet and GoToMeeting. That means you don’t have to ask anyone you’re meeting with to meet in a different way, or download anything new.
Benefit: mmhmm lets you show words, slides or sites next to you on screen, rather than sharing a separate screen. It makes it easy to share key words, phrases or ideas visually. That helps streamline discussions and puts the focus on you and what you’re aiming to convey, rather than on a shared screen. Here’s my video chat with mmhmm’s CEO where he used his tool in our live Zoom session 👇
How to get started
Go here to download the Mac app or join the Windows beta.
Next, bring in whatever content you want to share into mmhmm. You can import a PDF, PowerPoint or Keynote. Or create quick slides in mmhmm.
Open up your meeting tool of choice, like Zoom. Select mmhmm as your camera, in place of your usual Webcam. This way, you’ll be able to control what your fellow meeting attendees see of you through mmhmm.
You can use mmhmm in any meeting you attend—no need to be the host.
It’s free to use, with some premium features available for $10 a month.
Remember the Prezi slide fad? Prezi was once popular for slides that zoomed in and out. Its latest service lets you layer lower-thirds (speakers’ names and titles) and other text, icons and images on top of your video for online meetings. Prezi Video claims to have a million users. It’s free to try and works on Mac and Windows.
Like mmhmm, it works with whatever meeting service you already use. Just select it as your camera in place of your existing Webcam. It’ll still use your Webcam, but will afford you the additional benefit of layering on text, icons or images. That’s useful when you want to present without sharing separate slides, just by noting a few key words, phrases or visual ideas.
Both Prezi Video and mmhmm give you enhanced control over how you appear on camera. Use either app to simplify and augment screen sharing. In addition to streamlining material you present in a meeting, both Prezi Video and mmhmm have a bonus feature. You can record a presentation and share a link. Here’s an example of mmhmm founder Phil Libin’s interactive recorded presentation about why mmhmm has such a strange name.
Polish up how you look in your online meetings with Camo, a free utility that lets you use your iPhone or iPad camera with your existing meeting software, rather than relying on your weak laptop Webcam. It now works in beta on Windows too, and you can join the waiting list for the Android beta. Some advanced features are paid.
Zoom’s Catching Up
Zoom’s latest version for Mac has copied some of mmhmm’s functionality, so you can now use your slides as a virtual background, and blur your background. (Blurring also works in Google Meet and Skype.) You can add special effects🦄 This week, Zoom added a neat and unique capability: Immersive View. It puts you and your colleagues in a shared digital space.👇
Consider alternatives to a meeting
Visit Should It Be a Meeting or download the flowchart.
Bottom line: if no decision needs to be made, or you don’t need simultaneous input from more than one person, or if you can share input effectively asynchronously, a meeting may not be necessary.
A big reason why meetings fail
🙈 Misalignment. People aren’t on the same page about the point of the meeting. Al Pittampalli is, to me, a guru on the problem of ineffective meetings. Read this smart piece on why meetings, including virtual ones, fail. Some people are there to generate solutions, others to define or discuss an issue, still others to make a plan. To fix this, make sure there’s a clear, well-understood meeting focus in one of these areas. 👇
Why It’s Crucial to Run Better Meetings
😩 Avoid frustration. Check out these 50 surprising meeting stats — pre-pandemic— on the waste and frustration meetings generate. Among them: 47% complain that meetings are the most wasteful aspect of work time. 45% felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attended.
‼️ Keep meetings from multiplying. Having 8 to 17 meetings per week was common pre-pandemic. That number has likely gone up during the pandemic. Meeting growth is not new. Between 2000 and 2014, time spent in meetings grew 8% annually, according to an estimate in this Wall Street Journal piece.
The Learn Letter If you think of yourself as a learner or entrepreneur, or want to start a side project, you’ll enjoy the Learn Letter. Every Wednesday Eva Keiffenheim sends out a few curated articles, learning tools, and original ideas. Subscribe here
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🎥 For a laugh, watch this video about a conference call held in person
Have a tip or tool for improving online meetings? Share a comment below. 👇